I was unable to go to the World Cup this year due to lack of funds, but Tricky Lake of the DC Rollergirls as going and offered to write up her experiences as a fan.
I left for the Blood and Thunder Roller Derby World Cup armed with a press pass and a list of people I wanted to interview about a range of subjects. I never used that list. Instead, I arrived at the world cup and was completely over run by world class derby. I sat glued to the tracks for four straight days. The players, the groups of fans singing and chanting for their country, the intense game play, the screaming of the crowd...these things all lead to an immersive experience that left me both awed and inspired. Much has been said about the play and the game play in the weeks since the world cup. Today, I focus on the people who came to see the world cup and the energy of watching.
The different groups of cheering, screaming, chanting, singing, costume-wearing, stomping, horn blowing fans made the entire world cup experience that much more intense. I have been to tournaments before and I’ve seen the way that some teams do have fans that come out in droves to support their teams (“Boston, Boston, Pinch Pinch Pinch!” and the New Skids on the Block both spring to mind). The crowds that attended this event brought the energy in the room to a whole new level.
The first group of fans I noticed were from Team ZA, as the South African team called themselves. They had stuffed lions on their head. Frikkin. Lions. And capes. And they all sat in a big group and cheered together for their team. I remember thinking to myself how impressed I was by this. Little did I realize just how high the level of coordinated singing and chants would get by the end of the weekend.
Team France, Team Ireland, Team England, Team Canada, Team West Indies, Team Scotland, Team Chile, Team Portugal, Team Mexico, Team Wales, Team Argentina and I’m sure more that I didn’t bear direct witness to all had coordinated crowd songs and cheers to help urge on their teams. There was a fun moment before a Team France bout where their fans, sitting in the stand on both sides of the track, were singing one of their songs back and forth to each other several times. As you can hear in that clip, vuvuzelas were alive and well in the crowds for the entire weekend. You really could not go anywhere near any of the play without the incessant background honking. I heard surprisingly few cowbells. I would have thought there would be more considering that they’d be more compact for travel than a vuvuzela but I digress.
Team Australia’s group of cheerleaders (because really, that’s exactly what they were) were the obvious favorite the entire weekend. There were several of them (about half a dozen) in coordinated green and gold sequin dresses that spent every Australia game standing as a group on the sideline leading cheers, doing coordinated dances during time outs (that included lifts), rocking out between periods to get pumped music, and just generally improving the fan atmosphere. Everywhere you looked all weekend, there were some team Australia fans either in green and gold or holding a blow up kangaroo. At some point, one of the kangaroos was kidnapped by an opposing team (the theory was that it was team England but I never confirmed that). The kidnapped kangaroo showed up during the last day and gave birth to a smaller blow up kangaroo.
And the antics of the Team Australia dresses did not end with the world cup. One of the dresses followed Smarty Pants home. With Quadzilla. And quite a few others.
Mascot tomfoolery was well represented during the weekend. My favorite moment of this was during the last day when a cut out of Scald Eagle was stolen and draped in England’s flag. Some of the Team USA skaters managed to steal her back and started running through the crowd with her. Brazillian Nut decided that this would not do and jumped, not unlike a spider monkey, onto the face of the skater holding the cut out and wrested it away from her. All in front of an arena full of fans screaming encouragement.
Team West Indies had a large coordinated group of fans and were a definite crowd favorite by the end of the weekend. A large group from England set themselves up as a cheering section for team West Indies complete with pineapple mascot. This was Team West Indies’ national anthem. So much dancing. (By comparison, this was how Germany listened to their national anthem. Poised and ready for the first whistle on the jam line).
And of course, this wouldn’t be America unless we heard the ever swelling chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”
Four straight days of high level roller derby. That’s a lot for anyone to take in. But being a part of a crowd that continued to build in size and energy for four days until culminating in one giant arena bout between some of the best players in the world was magical. I really feel like the crowd and fan engagement I witnessed during the world cup speaks highly for the future for our sport and the world showing up to watch us play.